Lawsuit alleges Kansas City mayor tried to ‘intimidate’ activist over a request for public documents from City Hall

A social justice activist is suing Kansas City for failing to provide public documents in a timely manner – and for what she called an intimidating phone call from the mayor over it.

Lora McDonald, executive director of the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, also known as MORE2 (MORE squared), had used the Missouri Sunshine Law to request correspondence between Mayor Quinton Lucas and attorneys helping him sue the state over its law setting a higher minimum of funding for the Kansas City Police Department.

Lucas’ lawsuit to prevent the state-ordered and voter-approved rise in KCPD funding – a lawsuit he is pressing as a private citizen, but bizarrely with taxpayer funds – is filed against the Board of Police Commissioners, the state of Missouri and the attorney general.

McDonald now alleges in her own lawsuit that Lucas was angry about her request for documents in his case, and spoke in “a raised, angry voice, asserting his discontent” during a recent phone call with her.

“Plaintiff felt Mayor Lucas’s call was an attempt to intimidate, harass and/or coerce because of the tone and demeanor of his voice and because he was suggesting she withdraw the request,” the lawsuit claims.

Reports the Missouri Independent:

“McDonald’s alleged exchange with Lucas –  and, later, a city staffer – paints a picture of a city government that resists releasing public information and takes requests for records as an affront. The lawsuit also outlines four instances where City Hall has failed to promptly release records or even respond when McDonald sought an estimate as to when she could expect the request to be fulfilled.”

Lucas sued the state last year because the legislature raised the required KCPD funding from 20% to 25% of the city’s general fund revenues. Voters later approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the increase.

All that happened after Lucas and a majority of Kansas City Council members voted in 2021 to claw back $42 million in KCPD funding – a move that a judge later ruled was illegal.

McDonald claims the mayor’s general counsel and deputy chief of staff questioned her motivation for requesting the documents from the mayor’s lawsuit because Lucas and MORE2 presumably have similar goals with regard to police funding and governance.

Opponents to the local Board of Police Commissioners don’t like that its members are appointed by the governor.

“As an avid supporter of you and MORE2 who routinely assists with the mayor’s support of your organization,” the mayor’s general counsel allegedly wrote McDonald in a text, “I am trying to understand why we are pitting our respective offices against each other when we share the overall same goal of seeing state control dismantled.”

Asked by The Independent about the alleged intimidation by the mayor, local First Amendment attorney Bernie Rhodes said, “I find it troubling anytime anyone in authority attempts to intimidate someone who’s making legitimate Sunshine Law requests.”

Rhodes also lamented the city’s repeated failures to furnish public documents to citizens as required by the law, which sets a three-business-day deadline for governments to comply with sunshine requests or explain why it can’t, and to set a date certain that it can.

Lucas spokesperson Jazzlyn Johnson was quoted by The Independent as saying the mayor feels McDonald is a friend who shares his opinion on police governance “even if he disagrees with Ms. McDonald perhaps on the most efficient path to that outcome.” 

“While the mayor suggested to Ms. McDonald and her counsel that collaboration is a better approach, the mayor shared with Ms. McDonald that she has every right to pursue her requests and the city has responded to all of her requests.”

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